Save the world with your
knife and fork!
"Livestock's contribution to
environmental problems is on a massive scale... It needs to be addressed
with urgency" UN FAO
The 52 billion animals slaughtered every year provide great sales
figures for the meat and dairy industries but are destroying the planet.
For those brought up to believe that meat and dairy are fine and dandy -
even essential - it's hard to get your head around the enormity of the
damage livestock are doing.
In 2006, the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO)
quantified it in a breath-taking report called Livestock's Long Shadow.
They didn't pull their punches: "The livestock sector emerges as one of
the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious
It then set out the detail, backed by more than 600 scientific
references. As far as global warming is concerned, livestock are the
second biggest cause, producing 18 per cent of all greenhouse gases.
Compare this with the 13.5 per cent from the world's different forms of
transport - trains, boats, planes and cars.
A vegan driving a walloping great fourtrak is less damaging than a meat
eater riding a bike! Forests across the world are still being felled at a
terrifying rate. One estimate puts it at an area equal to 50 football
pitches a minute. Seventy per cent of cleared Amazon rainforest land is
now used for grazing cattle; most of the remaining 30 per cent is used to
grow soya as fodder. Europe imports a staggering 18 million tons of the
stuff every year so it follows that every chicken nugget, burger, bacon
rasher or turkey twizzler that's scoffed plays a part in forest
Rainforest soil is shallow and thin and animal agriculture quickly
turns it to dust. Livestock farmers simply move on and more trees are
felled. The richest habitat on earth made lifeless for profit! Crocodile
tears won't stop the disappearance of plants and animals so biodiversity
continues to be lost at a staggering rate. If you care, don't eat meat or
dairy because forests are where most wildlife live and livestock are the
prime reason why the trees are being felled.
The story doesn't end there, sadly. Deserts everywhere are spreading.
Overgrazing by cattle, sheep and goats gets rid of the vegetation while
their hard hooves and heavy bodies destroy the soil's structure - and
bingo, more desert. As the soil dries, weather patterns change and the
rain simply stops - permanently. Arid and semi-arid lands circle the globe
and make up about one third of its land surface. A similar process is
degrading the soil over 72 per cent of this land mass, accelerating
We live in an age obsessed with efficiency but not where animal
agriculture is concerned. Livestock demand 70 per cent of the world's
agricultural land simply because they are so incredibly inefficient. It
takes 17 kg of good-quality vegetable protein to produce just 1 kg of beef
protein and to alesser degree it is the same with all other farmed
animals. Deforestation and desertification are bad enough in their own
right but forests and soil constitute a massive carbon sink that absorbs
CO2 and holds it captive. That sink is being destroyed and so the Earth is
becoming steadily less able to soak up carbon. This makes livestock's
contribution much greater than its 18 per cent headline figure.
Does it matter? You bet it does! The phenomenon that's increasingly
concerning climate scientists is 'positive feedback'. The more the planet
warms, the more methane that's released from defrosting tundras and even
the seabed of the Arctic ocean - potentially billions of tons of it. Its
release causes more warming which triggers more releases and so on and so
on. The other developing environmental tragedies we can blame on livestock
producers are, according to the UN, water and air pollution, the massive
overuse of fresh water, antibioticresistant superbugs and pesticide
pollution. And before anyone turns to the oceans as a solution, the
situation here is equally as dire. Almost all the creatures of the deep
have been polluted with traces of deadly poisons such as mercury, PCBs and
dioxin, making them anything but a healthy alternative. Despite this, the
devastation of overfishing continues.
In 2003 the UN FAO reported that 75 per cent of world fisheries were
exploited to the full or over exploited. A year later, the organisation
set up to share out the spoils of oceanic plunder (International Council
for the Exploration of the Seas - ICES) was even more concerned, saying
that only 18 per cent of fish stocks were within 'safe biological limits'.
In other words, 82 per cent of all fish stocks are on the road to
extinction. Factory farming of fish is increasingly touted as the
solution. It isn't - it is part of the problem!
Farmed fish are mostly fed wild-caught fish - 4 kg for every kg of
weight they put on. Oceans across the world are being scoured for small
'industrial' fish which are essentially being wiped out. They may be
'industrial' fish to the industry's money men but to the oceans they are
an essential link in the food chain. Without them, the large fish which we
have already devastated stand no chance of recovering their numbers.
Canada offers a cautionary tale. In the 1960s it was catching 800,000 tons
of cod off the Grand Banks - in 1980 the stocks collapsed and disappeared
and have not since recovered. The science is now overwhelming. You cannot
be an environmentalist and eat meat, dairy and fish. If you're not an
environmentalist, you should be because no one knows what the eventual
outcome of these multi rapes will be but it will not be to the benefit of
For more information and to access the fully-referenced scientific report
Diet of Disaster, visit